Central America and Mexico, a region rocked by still-rising levels of violence and instability, can be deadly places to report the news. In July, three journalists were murdered in Mexico in a single week. Honduras and Guatemala have also experienced an “alarming uptick in murders of, and attacks against, journalists in recent years,” reports the Committee to Protect Journalists. El Salvador, which has recently surpassed Honduras as the country with the highest murder rate in the world, reported eight instances of aggression against journalists in 2013, according to the Association of Journalists in El Salvador. In 2014, that number climbed to 28. In April of this year, Luis Alonso Rosa López, a sports reporter for Monumental Radio, was assassinated. And just in the past two months, at least three journalists working for the El Salvadoran online newspaper El Faro have received dozens of threats on their life for their reporting.
Since its founding in 1998, El Faro has positioned itself as a fearless critic of the violence and malfeasance of the region, with long, in-depth and detailed exposés on crime, corruption and daily life throughout Central America. On July 22, El Faro journalists Roberto Valencia, Daniel Valencia Caravantes, and Óscar Martinez—internationally acclaimed author of The Beast and director of Sala Negra, an El Faro project focused on uncovering the causes of Central American violence—published a particularly explosive story uncovering the police massacre of eight people, including two minors. The same day, in anticipation of the backlash, Martinez and Valencia fled the country, and Caravantes relocated to a different part of El Salvador.
The official police account of the eight deaths was that the victims were killed in a shootout, but in “The Police Massacre in San Blas,” Martinez, Valencia and Caravantes report a very different scenario. One of the victims, 16-year-old Sonia Esmeralda Guerrero, the authors write, “died from a single gunshot wound to the mouth,” and the evidence surrounding her body was tampered with. “It’s impossible for the gun to have turned itself around between photographs,” a forensic expert explains in the piece. “They [the police] probably fabricated this scene.” Another of the victims, 17-year-old Ernesto Hernández Aguirre, was not carrying a firearm, “but he ended up with around 20 shots to his body.” Since the massacre, one of the principal witnesses has been found murdered: “The bones of his skull were crushed, as well as his face and teeth. He died from asphyxiation and as a result of machete slashes.”